News & Publications

Making Room for Wildlife Amid Crops and Livestock

At Sand County Foundation we work to inspire and enable a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean water, abundant wildlife habitat and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Each year our Leopold Conservation Award recognizes the voluntary efforts of conservation-minded farmers, ranchers and foresters who improve wildlife habitat, soil health and water quality.

In the following profiles, you’ll meet four families who received the award in California, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. Each is doing innovative work to improve their landscapes for wildlife habitat and agriculture.

Thanks to a grazing program developed on their Kansas ranch, the Hoeme family's land boasts an array of plants that supports some of the largest known populations and densities of lesser prairie chickens.

The Hoeme's ranch hosted the largest study ever conducted on the rare bird. They also participated in a large research project that sought to learn why mule deer were in decline. When biologists wanted to re-establish swift foxes on tribal lands in South Dakota, they captured, transported and released 12 swift foxes from the Hoeme’s land. The insights gained on their land have influenced how government, conservation partners, and other landowners manage the landscape for wildlife.


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2016 Stacy Coyote Pheasant Deer030
CHASTON HOEME: "As farmers and ranchers I believe we are stewards of this ground we've been put in charge of. We're stewards of the wildlife, and all the species that depend upon that soil for life. "

The Lundbergs are California rice growers who pioneered the stewardship practice of flooding rice fields rather than burning them to break down rice straw after harvest. By not burning the rice straw and planting cover crops they provide habitat for millions of migrating waterfowl to rest, feed and rear their young each winter.

The Lundbergs have also rescued duck eggs from their fields ahead of the rice harvest. In partnership with wildlife conservation groups, the eggs are collected, the ducklings are raised in hatcheries, banded with California Department of Fish and Game tags, and released back into safe habitats. These efforts have saved more than 30,000 ducks.


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California Rice Harvest
BRYCE LUNDBERG: "Six to seven million ducks come into this area every year ... and they use California rice fields like this one as habitat."

At the Killam Duval County Ranch in South Texas, vision and hard work have transformed a once-abused rangeland into a profitable cattle ranch with flourishing wildlife populations. When David Kitner was hired as ranch manager by David Killam, he instituted a detailed plan to benefit the wildlife and landscape, while maximizing economic returns.

Deer hunting provides the ranch a source of revenue to fund conservation improvements. Harvest guidelines emphasize the taking of mature bucks and proper herd management based on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommendations. Detailed harvest data is collected and analyzed, with results presented to hunters at an annual wildlife seminar.


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Tx 19 Deer
DAVID KITNER: "We use prescribed burning. We use roller chopping, and we always have wildlife on the forefront of our thinking when we use these practices."

The Sundstrom family shares large swaths of their Broken Box Ranch with the public through its enrollment in the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission’s Open Fields and Waters Program. Public hunting access provides wildlife population management of turkey, deer, quail and elk, while other areas are managed for endangered species. In addition, they have established 20 acres of flowering pollinator habitat for bees and butterflies.

When Broken Box Ranch was accepted recently as a Rangeland Health Demonstration Ranch, it was further evidence of Russ Sundstrom’s leadership and innovation. He will be responsible for collecting data and monitoring effects of various management strategies and their impacts on wildlife, beef production, and soil and plant health.


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Nb 19 Hunters
PUBLIC HUNTING access on Broken Box Ranch provides wildlife population management of turkey, deer, quail and elk on one of Nebraska's biologically unique landscapes.

For more on the farmers, ranchers and foresters who have received the Leopold Conservation Award for their efforts to improve wildlife habitat, click here.